BU Today

Campus Life

Learn a Foreign Language, No Pressure

Speak Wolof in your spare time


More than one billion people speak Mandarin Chinese. The CIA might recruit you if you can translate Arabic. And Hausa could be your lingua franca if you find yourself in sub-Saharan Africa.

This semester the College of Arts & Sciences department of modern languages and comparative literature is offering free, informal introductory classes in five languages: Turkish, Arabic, Wolof, Chinese, and Hausa. The program, Globally Speaking, is offered to all members of the BU community.

The initiative comes thanks to a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, aimed at strengthening ROTC students’ knowledge of languages deemed important to national security. Although targeted to ROTC students, the courses are open to everyone.

Globally Speaking is designed to give a taste of a language, hopefully encouraging people to then move into courses for academic credit. All five languages have an affiliated international study-abroad program as well.

“We know there are students curious about exotic languages, but cautious about signing up,” says Globally Speaking organizer William Waters, a CAS associate professor and chair of modern languages and comparative literature. “Maybe they’re overcommitted, and they’re worried it may hurt their GPA. We want to give them an opportunity to dip in.”

Classes will involve quick conversations, with songs and games to teach about local culture. In the Turkish class, for example, students learn about the art of bargaining, important in a Turkish market. A class may focus on food, perhaps including an outing to a restaurant.

“The point is to take a study break; it’s not supposed to be like an actual class,” says Waters. “You could start going, maybe miss a week or two, but that would be OK. Maybe one week you try Turkish, one week you try Arabic. It should be fun.”

More than 40 percent of BU students study abroad at some point during their time here, according to International Programs. But a flexible, after-hours program could appeal to staff as well.

Shelley Bertolino, student life coordinator at BU’s Center for English Language and Orientation Programs, plans to take Turkish and Arabic. She hasn’t studied a foreign language in years, she says, but she is excited about learning. “When you have a communications breakdown between people who don’t speak the same language, you want to understand where the problem lies, what’s happening,” she says. “People appreciate it so much if you speak even a few words in their language. The fact that courses are in the evening is great because I work full-time.”

John Aslanian, marketing and communications coordinator for International Programs, says he plans to attend the sessions just because of linguistic curiosity. But there’s a pragmatic rationale, too. “The more languages American students can learn, the stronger they’ll be at home,” he says. “The United States is a multilingual society.”

The first night of Globally Speaking is tonight, Monday, September 28. Turkish is Mondays, 5-6 p.m.; Arabic is Mondays, 6-7 p.m.; Wolof is Mondays, 7-8 p.m.; Chinese is Tuesdays, 5-6 p.m.; Hausa is Tuesdays, 6-7 p.m. People are welcome to join throughout the semester. All sessions take place in the Photonics Center, Room 901, 8 St. Mary’s St., ninth floor. There is no registration necessary, just bring a BU ID. Giselle Khoury, senior lecturer in Arabic and head of the Arabic Language Program, is available for additional information.

Language Link, offered through the Educational Resource Center, also has free, informal foreign language classes. A list of its offerings and registration are available here.

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.


4 Comments on Learn a Foreign Language, No Pressure

  • Anonymous on 09.28.2009 at 6:57 am


    I am curious about the photo credit for this story. When was this photo taken, by whom, and of what text?

    THank you in advance.

  • Greg on 09.28.2009 at 7:23 am

    I’m abroad! What about next semester?! Will it continue? I hope so

  • amlaskow on 09.28.2009 at 2:29 pm

    That was a great article in BU Today about all the foreign languages being taught ‘for fun’ and ‘for free’ on the Boston campus.

    I wish I worked in Boston. I’d be there for sure!!!

    I don’t think I would call Wolof the ‘lingua franca’ of West Africa, however, as much as I love it, and love speaking it, and love the Senegalese. There are Pulaar speakers from Senegal to Chad, all across the belt of the Sahel. And in sheer numbers, Hausa has more speakers than Wolof does.

    I hope your article results in more people taking advantage of this unique opportunity.

    Nice article!

    Sue Rosenfeld
    Resident Director

  • William Waters on 09.28.2009 at 9:13 pm

    quick answers

    Just responding to the prior comments (below):
    1) the program will definitely run again next semester, and next year as well.
    2) Actually when speaking to the reporter I did use the phrase “lingua franca” for Hausa, not Wolof, but I guess there was a mix-up.
    3) Sorry, no idea about the photo.
    –Please drop in: the program is off to a great start!

Post Your Comment

(never shown)